For several years, med tech has been on the rise in Ireland, and latest figures show that the trend is continuing: exports were up 10pc in the first half of 2012 to €3.9bn. The numbers speak for themselves, but do they square up with the view of Ireland held by international experts? We asked Chris Coburn, executive director of Cleveland Clinic Innovations, about med tech in Ireland and further afield.
Coburn, is well placed to comment: Cleveland Clinic is one of the leading medical centres in the US, and Cleveland Clinic Innovations is its corporate venturing arm. So far, its 55 spin-out companies have to date raised more than US$650m in equity investment, and the clinic works with companies and clinicians both inside and outside the US.
“We have a chance to travel all over the world and we really rank med tech in Ireland – the quality of the innovation, the companies, the commitment of the workforce – right up with what we are seeing in other regions," says Coburn, who is visiting Ireland this week.
He cuts a familiar figure on the Irish med-tech scene, and has been working with various agencies, companies and clinicians in the country in recent years. "Our engagement in Ireland is across a fairly broad spectrum in the healthcare sector: companies, innovators, entrepreneurs and institutions," says Coburn. "And on the educational front, we feel like we are full members of the Irish medical innovation community."
Standout collaborations include partnerships with Waterford-based company Rigney Dolphin, which is working with the clinic on connected health solutions and with healthcare solutions, and medical device innovation company i360 Medical. The latter company was initially established under the guidance of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, where it operated as the Centre for Innovation in Surgical Technology (CIST) and is now part of Cleveland Clinic’s ‘extended family’.
“We have a big presence with Rigney Dolphin," says Coburn. "And we have a strong relationship with i360 Medical – we were partners in launching that, we are shareholders and I am on the board."
Earlier this year, Cleveland Clinic hosted a visit from Taoiseach Enda Kenny, TD, and Coburn sees Government support as playing a vital role in the overall med-tech ecosystem in Ireland, particularly during the leaner, recessionary years.
"The partnership between Government, industry and academia is as vibrant in Ireland as anywhere I can think of in the world," he says. "I think in Ireland the Government has provided an enormous amount of leadership and resources that retained the investment side of the med-tech community in Ireland during these down years. Based on our work we are starting to see individual investors who weren’t previously in healthcare now entering the playing field, so I would see that as a very positive sign."
Med tech can be a long and relatively expensive journey from idea to market, and investment can be a major hurdle to clear. Does Coburn see any shifts in the landscape?
"Things are getting a little bit better in the US, but there are still cross-winds in the investment community – there are concerns about what the marketplace will look like in the next few years," he says.
"That said, a lot of the challenges that are being created because of reform and general cost pressures are also going to be met by technology – so on the one hand some folks feel discouraged but on the other hand there are massive opportunities for technologies that solve problems and reduce cost. In the US, and it feels like in Ireland and other parts of Europe, there is still good potential to get investment support."
Coburn describes how the Cleveland Clinic has "great collaboration" with Enterprise Ireland, and he encourages Irish med-tech companies looking to enter the US market to reach out to the clinic.
This Thursday, 13 December, Coburn will present at the 6th Annual Medical Technology Industry CEO Forum and Awards in Galway, which are jointly hosted by the Irish Medical Devices Association, Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland. Eight companies have been shortlisted for the Medical Technology Industry Excellence Awards and the winners are to be announced on Thursday.
Siliconrepublic.com is hosting Med Tech Focus, an initiative which over coming months will cover news, reports, interviews and videos, documenting Ireland’s leading role in one of the hottest sectors in technology.